The Arizona field tests were important for both the rover and the astronauts. The testing “gives us the opportunity to flesh out the requirements we would actually need for exploration, the mission scenarios such as science activities, and the mission control timelines,” says Joe Kosmo, mission manager of D-RATS.
NASA conducted a mock 14-day mission during which two crew members lived inside the rover and left it, wearing spacesuits, only to perform simulated moonwalks. In addition to evaluating the rover’s performance, Kosmo says the focus was to assess the conditions for astronauts. The D-RATS researchers also tested how different communication scenarios–continuous, limited, and non-real time–affected the crew’s productivity.
So-called “suitports” allow astronauts to slip in and out of their spacesuits without having to ever bring them inside the vehicle, leaving the cabin free of dust and contaminants. A hatch inside the rear of the cabin opens, and the suit’s life-support system or pack serves as a doorway so that an astronaut can crawl out of the suit and into the rover. This also means that astronauts can suit up in less than 10 minutes, a remarkable feat compared to the six hours needed for the procedure at the International Space Station.
LER’s cabin, which doubles as a storm shelter during solar or dust events, can also be removed. The astronauts can then use the rover’s base, called Chariot, for exploration or for carrying large payloads. Chariot can be driven by the astronauts or remotely operated.
During the simulated mission, the rover covered a total of 142 kilometers and conducted a mock rescue of “lost” crew members, using new navigation software to find the missing astronauts in less than an hour. LER docked with a second rover, called Athlete–a remotely operated heavy-lifting vehicle. A third rover, called K-10, was used to explore the test site a few months earlier, scouting the area, mapping it, gathering data, and planning tasks for LER.
“We successfully completed the 14-day mission and demonstrated that two crew members can be maintained in the lunar electric vehicle over that period of time,” says Kosmo.